Oped: For kids' safety, inquire about unlocked guns
Before your child goes into a friend's house this summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants you to ask whether any unlocked guns are present.
The group of 66,000 pediatric specialists designated Thursday as ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day, in an attempt to curb gun injuries and deaths, which happen at an alarming rate in the United States. An average of 12 people age 21 and younger are killed each day by a firearm, and an average of 66 people age 21 and younger are injured.
The ASK Day campaign recommends the following:
If your child is going to a home where he or she hasn't been before, ask if there is a gun in that home.
If the answer is yes, ask how the gun is stored. It should be stored in a locked location and unloaded, and ammunition should be locked up separately.
If you are not comfortable with the answers, invite the other child to play at your house instead.
About a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household, according to the non-partisan Pew Research Center.
"If there are unsecured guns in the house, you can't assume your child won't find them or won't touch them," Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement. "Young children are naturally curious and are often unable to remember or follow safety rules. Adolescents can be impulsive. When these characteristics are combined with access to firearms, the consequences can be tragic and permanent. Asking this simple question — is there an unsecured gun in your home — is an important step every parent can take to help their kids stay safe."
Simple question, not always easy to deliver.
Dear Abby was heavily criticized last summer for her response to a letter-writer wondering whether and how to approach the topic.
"Where do I draw the line?" First-time Mom in New Jersey asked. "Do I ask everyone whose house I'll be going to whether or not they have guns? What are the appropriate questions? Do I ask where they are stored and who has access? What else should I ask? Or should I mind my own business?"
Abby recommended the latter.
"If you start asking other parents whether they have guns in their homes and how they store them, your questions may be off-putting," she wrote. "Because you are concerned for your child's safety, why not offer to have the kids visit your house for play dates?"
After gun safety advocates flooded her inbox and social media pages, Abby reversed course and posted a clarification on Facebook and Twitter.
"I should have advised, 'You are responsible for your child's welfare. Part of assuring that your daughter will be safe involves asking whether there are weapons on the premises and, if so, what safety precautions have been taken,'" she wrote. "If anyone feels your concern for your child's safety is presumptuous, do not allow your child to go there."
ASK Day, ideally, gets more and more parents on board. After all, the more frequent the question becomes, the less awkward it will feel to say or hear it.
If your child has a peanut allergy, you don't hesitate to ask other parents not to expose him or her to peanuts. It's not a question of etiquette, it's a question of life or death. Guns are, to state the extremely obvious, a more politically charged topic than peanuts. But that shouldn't stop us from asking the AAP's recommended questions.
Your job as a parent isn't to judge every other parent's approach to controversial issues, but your job is to keep your child as protected as possible from harm. Simple as that.